A university professor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been placed on paid leave after a video widely shared on social media showed him using a racial slur in class and appearing to give students permission to use the slur “because we’re using it in a pedagogical sense.”
“Effective yesterday, Friday, September 11, that faculty member in the video, education professor Gary Shank, is on paid leave, pending investigation,” Duquesne University said in a statement, adding that another professor is taking over the course.
The video posted on Twitter on Friday afternoon shows Shank teaching an online course.
“What’s the one word about race that we’re not allowed to use? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with ‘N,'” Shank says.
Several seconds of silence follow his remarks.
“It’s even hard to say, OK. I’ll tell you the word, and again. I’m not using it in any way other than to demonstrate a point,” Shank says, before using the slur and recounting instances in which he says he heard it used when he was a young man.
NBC News reached out to Shank on Saturday by email, phone and social media but did not receive an immediate response.
The Duquesne Duke, a student publication, said it obtained a Sept. 9 email that Shank sent to students in his educational psychology class with the subject line, “My most sincere apology.”
“As part of my pedagogy this morning I used a term that I now realize was deeply troubling to the class. It was not my intent to do so, but I must take responsibility for the impact of my words and teaching,” wrote Shank. “I am offering each and every one of you my most sincere apology and my guarantee that I will never cross this line again in our class.”
The university statement included a letter that School of Education Dean Gretchen Generett sent to students in the class Friday afternoon, in which she offered “my sincere apologies to you for what you experienced.”
According to the letter, Generett found out about the incident after one student emailed Shank directly and others emailed their adviser.
“I understand that sending those emails was not easy and I want to thank students for using their voices to share the troubling and disturbing language that was used by your professor in class,” Generett wrote.
“There is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment,” she said. “Using the ‘N word’ or seemingly encouraging students to use that word is not in keeping with the mission of the University, the School of Education, or the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”